Three Reasons Online Fundraising Fails

Digital Marketing

Digital channels are an effective means for charities to fundraise.  

Yet every year I hear stories about online fundraising campaigns that failed. 

Many fundraisers within the not-for-profit sector still regard online with scepticism. Some even argue that digital channels are better used for communications and not fundraising.

The thing is the amount of money being raised online each year is increasing alongside the number of success stories. 

A large international development agency that we’re partnering with recently said that online fundraising is now more important than ever with face-to-face fundraising being disrupted due to the pandemic. 

What separates those online fundraising campaigns that succeed from those that fail?

In my experience, online fundraising campaigns that fail have three things in common.  

TLDR: Beware of anyone who wants to take an online fundraising idea to market without considering whether you have an audience, offer and contextually relevant message for them. 

01. A Small and Inactive Online Community  

The results of a direct mail or telemarketing campaign are largely dependent on the size and quality of your list. Online fundraising isn’t so different.

Fundraising campaigns are short and sharp. There’s little time to build the level of awareness needed to effectively convert impressions into donations. 

What is needed is a sizable and engaged online community who you can call upon to support your cause.

An online community is not built overnight. Rather is developed overtime using quality content – organic and paid – consistently. This requires investment in content, advertising, and community management. 

What’s the ROI of building an online community? Well, it’s best to think about it as the ROI on a quality DM list. A good list will have higher response rates and larger average gift.

02. A Small and Inactive Database

Pretty much everything said in relation to the size and quality of online communities can be applied to your donor database. 

The more people who know your organisation, support its work, and are happy to hear from it the better. They can be activated by email, and/or direct mail, and/or phone, and/or social media, and/or online video etc.

Beyond raising funds from existing donors, a healthy database will help create quality lookalike and custom audiences for advertising. We generally see the best results coming from lookalike audiences on social media, supported by remarketing for those who engage with ads but not convert. 

Online fundraising doesn’t exist separately to fundraising. And a quality database is the foundation of fundraising.

Investing in building a quality database through all the usual – and some unusual – tactics is imperative for any organisation looking how to fundraise online effectively. 

03. Contextual Irrelevance

Have you ever been at a party and somebody interjects with a random comment? The conversation goes quiet for a moment before someone brings everyone back to topic. The random comment is an example of contextual irrelevance. 

The best fundraising results – online or otherwise – come from having contextually relevant offerings and communications. 

When Australia was talking about the Victorian bushfires, those organisation’s supporting relief efforts get the lion’s share of donations. Same goes for the Syrian refugee crisis. If people are talking about something relevant to your organisation you should be part of that conversation and have a contextually relevant offering. 

Not all charities support the big issues like those in the above example. And they don’t have to. It’s about what is contextually relevant to your audience. 

A cancer-based charity planned their first giving day earlier this year. Then Perth went into lockdown the week of the event. There was talk of cancelling the giving day, but a decision was made to move ahead regardless of being in lockdown. The day was a smashing success. 

The reason is they had a large online community, an active database that cares deeply about the cause and for whom cancer is contextually relevant, even in a global pandemic. Charity fundraisers need to understand what is contextually relevant to their audience and present offers consistent with this. 

How to Fundraise Online Effectively? 

How to fundraise online effectively is a much bigger question that deserves a detailed response. 

What I can say is that fundraising online effectively takes planning, investment, and time. But the principles of best-practice fundraising remain. 

This means taking the time to find, inspire and engage your audiences before making an ask. And for those ready to give, having a seamless donation experience that increases motivation and decreases friction. 

Any organisation can raise significant funds online if they pay attention to the fundraising fundamentals. So please do beware of anyone who wants to take an online fundraising idea to market without considering whether you have an audience, offer and contextually relevant message for them.